Madden has long been a series I’ve admired, enjoyed, and played since the early days of the SEGA Genesis when it went head to head with Joe Montana football. It’s been interesting to watch the sports simulation genre grow and mature over those years, with each passing iteration the ultimate goal to create a game that mimics its real life counter part. It’s easy to argue every year that the game is the “most realistic” to date, and this year’s Madden is no exception. But I think we’ve gotten to a point where it almost comes at a cost.
First lets talk about some really good changes Madden NFL 15 has finally seen. The playbook is completely revamped, with multiple ways to find the perfect play for each and every down. Whether you want a running play that’s a pitch or inside or a play action pass from the I formation, you’ll be able to find it through the new playbook menu system. Perhaps the biggest change (and most exciting) is the community integration into the playbook. Madden 15’s playbook shows you the success of plays, the average yards gained, and the percentage of a time someone actually chose that play in that situation. It’ll also track how successful a play is for you and tie all of that stuff back into a recommendation engine which tells you not only what play to pick, but why.
The core game play of Madden is as tight as ever. Running the ball is satisfying and you always feel like you have precise control of where you want your player to go. The reactions of the blockers and other players as their virtual bodies collide is represented well thanks to some revamped physics work. Passing has a few nice touches as well, with easier difficulties giving you visual cues on when to pass the ball to an open receiver. All in all where you want Madden to be solid, it is.
The presentation this year borrows lightly from the NFLs broadcast style, which shouldn’t surprise you as it was designed by from the ground up by an NFL films cinematographer. The result are tighter and more relevant replays and camera angles which showcase player emotion quite well. The commentary of Jim Nantz and Phil Sims leaves a bit to be desired, but for the most part, gets the job done. Obviously the presentation is where a Madden game can shine, by showing off its graphical prowess. The players all look great and the texture detail on them, the field and the stadium is top notch.
But all of this culminates with the one problem I have with the game. As realistic as the game looks and plays, when sitting back and watching it’s easy to be tricked into thinking it’s live television. And then something happens. Whether it’s a physics glitch and a player is launched 30 feet into the air, or a players head spins completely backwards from a hit - when the game breaks reality it becomes painfully apparent and takes you out of the game almost completely. I’ve seen pile ups where bodies magically jump around between the levels of players and weird times on close up replays where the ball isn’t actually sitting in a player’s hands. These type of glitches have been present for years in Madden games, the problem is the graphical fidelity and presentation has now reached a level where it’s almost an uncanny valley of sports.
While all of those things can be jarring to the experience, for most of the time you are on the virtual gridiron, you’re going to have fun. There’s a wide variety of supported modes of play including plenty of practice, online, franchise, and career options. Tons of content will keep you busy and dynamic roster updates, highlights and other enhancements will keep things fresh. Overall, this is the best Madden game to date, but you already knew that.